Canadian Bouchard here to stay
MELBOURNE, Australia -- This year's Aussie Open was a tournament of upsets in the women's draw, with No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 Maria Sharapova all falling before the semifinals.
But with Williams hampered by a bad back she played through in her third-round match before losing in fourth, Sharapova playing her first major since a shoulder injury, and Azarenka running into a buzz saw named Agnieszka Radwanska, this year's first major fell short of shocking.
Here are some new things, however, we learned these past two weeks:
1. Thirty is still the new 25
It is not inconceivable that in the not-too-distant future, the top two players in women's tennis will be over 32 years old. But even if newly crowned Australian Open champion Li Na (who turns 32 on Feb. 26) does not overtake No. 2 Azarenka, that's two of the top three, as No. 1 Williams, 32 (her birthday is Sept. 26), is not going anywhere.
"I'm not old," Li said. "Start of tournament, everybody [was] talking about the age. I would like to say age is nothing. [I] still can win the Grand Slam, so [I'm] pretty happy about my age. [I've] got more experience on the court."
Rounding out the new top 10 will be No. 2 Azarenka, 24; No. 4 Radwanska, 24; No. 5 Sharapova, 26; No. 6 Petra Kvitova, 23; No. 7 Sara Errani, 26; No. 8 Jelena Jankovic, 28; No. 9 Angelique Kerber, 26; and No. 10 Simona Halep, 22.
2. That said, the 19-year-old is the real deal
Eugenie Bouchard made quite an impression here with her run to the semifinals. Despite her straight-sets loss to Li, she showed the on-court maturity of a much more experienced player with an intelligent and aggressive game that left veterans and former players like Chris Evert raving, with Evert comparing Bouchard's mental strength to that of her own when she played.
Bouchard, who is projected to jump from No. 31 to No. 19 in Monday's rankings, acted like a teenager only when she professed her love of fellow Canadian Justin Bieber in an on-court interview after her quarterfinal match. She'll have to work on that, though it should be pointed out this admission came before he was arrested.
3. And speaking of real deals
The biggest knock on Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova had been that while she knocked off top-10 players with some regularity, she often lost to players ranked lower than her. Entering the tournament, she had failed to reach the second week of the previous six Grand Slams and had not reached a Grand Slam semifinal since the 2009 French Open.
In Melbourne, Cibulkova, who was playing in her first Grand Slam final and is projected to jump to No. 13 from No. 24 in the rankings, defeated four of the top 16 seeds. Although she lost to Li at love in the second set, Cibulkova did not shrink in the final and has one of the strongest work ethics in the game. This should not be her last final.
"I was waiting for this for a long time. Now I want to do 100 percent to keep it up," she said. "I'm just 24 years old and already play in Grand Slam finals. I feel like my game is there to challenge the biggest names, you know, to beat them, so why not?"
4. Women's tennis suffers from performances like Radwanska at the Australian and Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon
Both players were so impressive, as well as inspiring, on their run-ups to the semis and final, respectively, and then both fell so flat it was embarrassing.
Lisicki, who upset five-time champion Serena Williams en route to the final last summer, simply choked against No. 15 seed Marion Bartoli, admitting she was "just overwhelmed by the whole situation."
It was worse in the case of Radwanska, who put together one of the best Grand Slam performances in recent memory with her thorough dismantling of two-time defending champion Azarenka, then said the lack of a day off before her semifinal against Cibulkova left her too tired to play well -- or even halfway decently.
And it's not like Radwanska, 24 and the tournament's No. 5 seed, is a rookie. The 2012 Wimbledon runner-up, she was in her third Grand Slam semi of the past seven she has played, and has won 13 singles titles in her career. Gives ammunition to those who like to criticize the depth of the women's game.
5. Sloane Stephens is frustrating to root for
In the most anticipated women's match in the draw, the 13th seed should have been amped for her rematch with Azarenka, whose controversial medical timeout in last year's semifinal against Stephens had the crowd firmly on the 20-year-old American's side in their fourth-round match.
Instead, Stephens, playing as if it was a second-rounder in the Istanbul Cup, lost 6-3, 6-2, committed 32 unforced errors and actually allowed Azarenka to get back in the good graces of the fans here.
Last year, this tournament began a breakout year for Stephens. Still immensely talented, she could be headed for a disappointing 2014 if she doesn't play with more passion than she did in Melbourne.